A law allowing the public access to government documents needs to be amended to remove certain hurdles, information and data protection chief Ian Deguara has said. 

"The FOI legislation is what it is. To me, it needs to be revised," he said. 

Malta's FOI law was first enacted in 2008 and brought into force in 2012.

Speaking during a podcast called Ganado Meets Tech, Deguara acknowledged the current freedom of information law has a number of exemptions, many of which are not subject to the public interest test.  

One of his proposals is to remove public authorities’ right to appeal an order granting the data commissioner access to a document, to decide on the validity or otherwise of an FOI request.

Times of Malta had found itself bogged down in a three-year legal battle after Malta Enterprise appealed an order by the data commissioner to be given access to a secretive memorandum of understanding signed between the government and the investors behind Vitals Global Healthcare, the failed hospitals venture. 

A court had eventually ruled that Malta Enterprise’s secrecy provisions trumped freedom of information laws. 

Deguara said during the podcast he always approaches a freedom of information request with the mindset that access to a document should be given, whilst working within the confines of the current law. 

He also acknowledged that the internal complaints procedure is “useless”, as a decision to reject an FOI request is rarely overturned by the public authority’s own internal process. 

A rejected FOI request can only be taken to the information and data protection commissioner once it has gone through the internal complaints procedure. 

The data protection commissioner noted that his office's powers under FOI law are "very limited".

Deguara said he is aware the process to revamp Malta's FOI law had commenced, and he had already provided his views on the matter.

Read the entire interview with Data Protection Commissioner Ian Deguara.

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